4 signs a close senior may be a victim of financial abuse

  • When a person takes advantage of the finances of an isolated senior, with or without cognitive decline, it is financial abuse.
  • Large and unusual purchases on your loved one’s account and mood swings are common signs of elder financial abuse.
  • You can prevent elder financial abuse by creating a living will or estate plan.
  • Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.

Elder abuse is one of the most common but underreported types of abuse in the United States. Like any other form of abuse, there is often a financial component to keeping seniors trapped in the relationship.

According to National Council on Aging, up to five million older people are financially exploited each year by family members, friends or medical personnel. Even though elder financial abuse is vastly underreported, the NCOA estimates that up to $36.5 billion is stolen annually from vulnerable older adults.

“Elder abuse is when a family member or friend takes advantage of someone with diminished cognitive abilities, or an older person who is truly lonely and isolated,” says a financial therapist Megan McCoy, Ph.D, LMFT, AFC, CFT-I.

Especially during the pandemic, when seniors are even more isolated and lonely, loved ones may be more vulnerable than ever to financial abuse by seniors. Here are the four most common signs of financial elder abuse and some resources to help advocate for loved ones if they are victims of financial elder abuse.

1. They will mention the abuser’s name repeatedly

McCoy says the abuser’s goal is “to cement themselves at the center of the loved one’s life.” You will hear your loved one refer to him as “my friend”, “my good son” or any other praise during regular conversations. “This repetition is a big sign that something has changed,” she adds.

2. Large and unusual purchases on their account

McCoy says you’ll also see major purchases like “a check made out to the abusive person, paying their rent, or paying off their debts.”

“A lot of this relationship is having the older child think they have to buy into the relationship so they’ll buy things for the other person,” McCoy says, although there are also instances where the abuser already has access to the victim’s accounts and buy things for themselves.

3. Check Issuing Privileges Granted to the Attacker

It is also very common for the abusive person to be granted check writing privileges so that they can access your loved one’s assets.

4. Mood swings

McCoy explains that, like any other type of abuse, older people can express feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and sudden joy when talking about their abusers.

“One moment they like the person so much, but at the same time they know something is seriously wrong,” she adds.

A Living Will or Estate Plan Can Help Prevent Financial Elder Abuse

Financial abuse of older adults is punishable by law in all 50 states, though it is vastly underreported.

One of the easiest ways to protect your loved ones from financial elder abuse is to ask them to create a living will or estate plan. With an estate plan or living will in place that clearly outlines your loved one’s boundaries and preferences, you can take legal action to have a financially abusive person evicted.

For help advocating for a senior who may be a victim of financial abuse, contact the following organizations:


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